On stage and on the screen Janelle Monae is a musical force to be reckoned with. From her charismatic dancemoves to her vocal somersaults, she seems to peer down from the great heights of performance whilst we all watch in awe. When meeting the infectious troubadour face-to-face, however, Janelle is surprisingly petite. Just 5”2 tall and, although she is wearing her signature monochrome, her black leggings and bomber jacket are nothing on the striking braces, shirt and high waisted-trousers she will rock on the Roundhouse stage in just a few hours. It’s clear that even in an interview she means business and is as serious and meticulous about her answers as she is about the perfection of her stage show.
The single Tightrope from your previous album caught everyone’s attention – how does a song like that evolve?
A lot of my songs come to me in my dreams. I find a lot of lyrics and melodies when I’m asleep. I have to keep my recorder by bed to write down the ideas or sing out what I’ve heard. I love listening to music first, and then I’ll get the melody and then I’ll write to that melody.
Tell us a little bit about your new album, The Electric Lady?
It’s a follow up to The ArchAndroid. This is about community, people rallying behind unity, love and empowerment. And the title is part of the subject matter. I was painting this image of this female silhouette each night. I spoke to friends and even my therapist and they all encouraged me, they said you should name this series, name this painting. I had a really hard time coming up with the name and I knew that this meant whoever this woman was she didn’t like to be marginalised or categorized. The Electric Lady came into my spirit and I started to think about a world where there was a new 21st century woman.
There are so many great collaborators on your new album. Is there anyone who stood out?
Everyone on the album is special and I’m honoured to have them all. I have a song with Erykah Badu, with Solange Knowles – The Electric Lady – I have a song with Esperanza Spalding, with Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, with Miguel and last but not least with Prince.
How was it working with Prince?
I’m still pinching myself. He’s been a musical hero of mine for quite some time. He reached out to me when I realised my first EP Metropolis, he took me on tour with him and we’ve done Madison Square Garden and the Forum. He’s a mentor. I’m still very thankful he agreed to be on the album. He doesn’t collaborate a lot and I also had the opportunity to produce him as well.
How does that collaboration work?
We play with ideas. You know, he was on Jupiter and I was on Mars and we kinda threw back and forth ideas and met on Saturn.
Do you have an alter ego for the stage?
There’s balance. I’m definitely extremely energetic and unpredictable when I step on stage. It depends on what time of day and when you catch me. I try and meditate when I’m off stage and come up with new concepts and new ideas and being nice and humble and happy, and all those things that make you feel good inside. But when I’m on stage it’s The Electric Lady.
You have a strict uniform of black and white – does that have a significance?
Absolutely. I’ve been rocking this before people knew who I was. I started my own record label The Wondaland Art Society and wanted to create my image independently in Atlanta. I had about 500 fans and I look at black and white as minimalism, I see this outfit as my uniform of walking art with a message. On the art side it’s minimalism, on the uniform it’s the message – paying homage to the working class. My grandmother, my mother, everyone who wore suits to help the community move forward and I try and do that through my music and my art.
What artists out there inspired your music?
Stevie Wonder, definitely. He’s someone whose music is like another form of a Bible, his music is the Bible in music. I think Prince as well as he helped show us how far we could take individuality. Those two for right now.
How does it feel supporting Chic at the iTunes Festival?
I love Chic, Nile Rodgers is amazing and I’m so happy for all the success that he’s getting from Daft Punk. He’s a genius. He’s also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. He’s like a big brother to me and I’m honoured that I’m performing before he goes on.
Don’t forget to download the official iTunes Festival App to get more information and watch all the shows from iTunes Festival live until the end of October using your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch or on your computer.
Watch Janelle’s Q.U.E.E.N. music video here: